Studying gets harder

The drop in the number of grants awarded and higher fees are affecting equal opportunity

A year after higher university fees and tougher criteria to obtain and maintain government grants went into effect, the results could not be any more worrisome in terms of social equity. The combination of both measures has made it much harder for lower-income families to send their kids to university. Just when the need for student grants has increased because of the crisis, the government’s latest cost-cutting measures are creating an insurmountable hurdle for many families.

When the government approved a tuition hike of up to 66 percent, it asserted that it wouldn’t affect equality because the measure would be compensated with a grant system for students with fewer resources. Some regions, such as Andalusia and Galicia, put the fee hike on hold, but most have already introduced significant increases. Catalonia, the region with the highest costs for university tuition, raised fees 67 percent last year. Even though the regional authority said it would freeze fees in 2013, an official edict shows an 84-percent rise in fees for engineering degrees, which means that one out of every four university degrees will cost nearly twice as much.

Last year, Madrid implemented a more moderate rise, but the 20-percent hike announced for next year brings the total increase over the last two years to 65.6 percent in the region.

These raises, together with tougher requisites to obtain a student grant, which went into effect last year, have already created the first victims. Thousands of students have been forced to give up their studies. The figures in Madrid speak for themselves: while the number of grant applicants rose by 9,000 people for the 2012-13 academic year, 3,000 fewer grants were actually awarded. The rejection rate grew from 51.9 percent to 54 percent. According to this newspaper’s estimates, around 40,000 more applicants have been turned down across Spain compared with the previous year.

These figures cast a very dark shadow over Minister José Ignacio Wert’s education reform bill, which foresees even tougher criteria to access a government grant. It is important to properly assess the scope of this reform, because it could well turn out to have a very limited impact on improved student grades, while causing irreparable damage to equal opportunity.